Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Hesychius of Jerusalem

Presbyter and exegete, probably of the fifth century

Click to enlarge

Hesychius of Jerusalem, presbyter and exegete, probably of the fifth century. Nothing certain is known as to the dates of his birth and death (433?), or, indeed concerning the events of his life. Bearing as he does the title tou presbuterou, he is not to be confused with Bishop Hesychius of Jerusalem, a contemporary of Gregory the Great. A monograph on this brilliant scholar, whose fame has been so long obscured, would fill one of the most urgent needs of patristic theology.

The writings of Hesychius of Jerusalem have been in part lost, in part handed down and edited as the work of other authors, and some are still buried in libraries in MS. Whoever would collect and arrange the fragments of Hesychius which have come down to us must go back to the MSS.; for in the last edition of the Fathers (P.G., XCIII, 787-1560) the works of various writers named Hesychius are thrown together without regard for order under the heading “Hesychius, Presbyter of Jerusalem“. About half of the matter under “Hesychius” must be discarded, namely, the commentary on Leviticus (787-1180) which is extant only in Latin and is unauthentic, being based on the Vulgate text rather than the Septuagint, and therefore the work of a later Latin (Isychius). The collection of ascetic maxims (1479-1544) is the work of Hesychius of Sinai (q.v.), and not of his namesake of Jerusalem. Neither are all the homilies (1449-80) as certainly the work of Hesychius of Jerusalem as the sixth, the authenticity of which is supported by an ancient Escorial MS. (œÜ, III, 20, saec. 9). Unfortunately, this collection does not include the homily on Bethlehem from the Turin MS., C IV4, saec. 12-13, a gem of religious rhetoric worthy of furnishing the lessons for an Office of the Church. Subjoined to the “Legend of the Martyrdom of St. Longinus” (P.G., XCIII, 1545-60) is the testimony of “Hesychius Presbyter of Jerusalem” himself, that he had found the MS. in the library of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem.

Method and Importance of his Exegetical Writings.—Judging from the extant fragments, Hesychius must have been a very prolific writer on Biblical, particularly Old-Testament, exegetics. The notice in the Greek Menology under March 28, in which mention is made of the exposition of the entire Scriptures, can refer to none other than Hesychius of Jerusalem. In hermeneutics he adheres closely to the allegorico-mystical method of the Alexandrines; he finds in every sentence of the Bible a mystery of dogma, and reads into texts of the Old Testament the whole complexus of ideas in the New. He follows Origen in choosing for the enunciative form of exegesis the shortest possible marginal gloss (paratheseis). His comment on Is., xix, 1, “the Lord will ascend upon a swift cloud, and will enter into Egypt“, is “Christ in the arms of the Virgin”. Water represents always to him “the mystical water” (of baptism), and bread, “the mystical table” (of the Eucharist). It is this hyper-allegorical and glossarial method which constitutes the peculiar characteristic of his exegesis, and proves a valuable help to the literary critic in distinguishing authentic Hesychiana from the unauthentic. The anti-Semitic tone of many scholia may find an explanation in local conditions; likewise geographical and topographical allusions to the holy places of Palestine would be expected of an exegete living at Jerusalem. The importance of Hesychius for textual criticism lies in the fact that many of his paraphrases echo the wording of his exemplar, and still more in his frequent citation of variants from other columns of the Hexapla or Tetrapla, particularly readings of Symmachus, whereby he has saved many precious texts. He is likewise of importance in Biblical stichometry. His “Capitula” (P.G., XCIII, 1345-86) and commentaries show the early Christian division into chapters of at least the Twelve Minor Prophets and Isaias, which corresponds to the inner sequence of ideas of the respective books far better than the modern division. In the case of certain separate books, Hesychius has inaugurated an original stichic division of the Sacred Text—for the “citizen of the Holy City” (aliopolites) cited in the oldest MSS. of catenae of the Psalms, and the Canticles, is none other than Hesychius of Jerusalem. It has been discovered by Mercati that in some MSS. the initial letter of each division according to Hesychius is indicated in color. Hesychius must have been generally known as an authority, for he is quoted simply as Hagiopolites, or, elsewhere, by the equally laconic expression “him of Jerusalem” (tou Ierosolumon).

Separate Commentaries.—It is certain that Hesychius was the author of consecutive commentaries on the Psalms, the Canticle of Canticles, the Twelve Minor Prophets, Isaias, and Luke (Chapter i?). His name occurs in catenae in connection with an occasional scholium to texts from other books (Genesis, I and II Kings, Ezechiel, Daniel, Matthew, John, Acts, the Catholic Epistles), which, however, apart from the question of their authenticity, are not necessarily taken from complete commentaries on the respective books. Likewise the citations from Hesychius in ascetic florilegia, as in Bodl. Barocc. 143, saec. 12, are taken from exegetical works. The most perplexing problem is the connection of Hesychius with the commentary on the Psalms attributed to him. The numerous citations from Hesychius in catenae of the Psalms and the exegetical works on the Psalms handed down over his name, particularly in Oxford and Venice MSS., are so widely at variance with each other as to preclude any question of mere variations in different transcriptions of one original; either Hesychius was the author of several commentaries on the Psalms or the above-mentioned commentaries are to be attributed to several authors named Hesychius. As a matter of fact Spanish MSS. clearly distinguish between Hesychius the Monk, author or commentaries on the Psalms and Canticles, and Hesychius the Priest. In 1900 the present writer explained the commentary on the Psalms included among the works of St. Athanasius -(P.G., XXVII, 649-1344) as the glossary of Hesychius issued over a pseudonym. This hypothesis has since been confirmed by further evidence (Escorial, ps, I, 2, saec. 12).

A complete commentary of Hesychius on the Canticles of the Old and New Testament, which are known to have constituted a distinct book in the early Christian Bible, is preserved in MS.; any edition of this must be based on the Bodl. Miscell., 5, sc. 9. Another codex which would have been particularly valuable for this edition and for the solution of the Hesychius problem, the Turin MS. B, VII, 30, sc. 8-9, has unfortunately been destroyed by fire. The Mechitarists of San Lazzaro have in their possession an Armenian commentary on Job over the name of Hesychius of Jerusalem. The scholia of Hesychius to the Twelve Minor Prophets are preserved in six MSS. at Rome, Paris, and Moscow, and await publication. His commentary on Isaias was discovered in 1900 in the anonymous marginal notes to an eleventh-century Vatican MS. (Vatic., 347) by the present writer, who published it with a facsimile; the authenticity of these 2860 scholia was later confirmed by a ninth-century Bodleian MS. (Miscell., 5).

Scholia to the Magnificat, in the catenae of Canticles, and MSS. at Paris and Mount Athos establish beyond doubt the fact that Hesychius left a commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, at least on the first chapter. For evidence as to the authenticity of the “Harmony of the Gospels” (P.G., XCIII, 1391-1448) the treatise on the Resurrection must first be examined. This is extant in two forms, a longer (under Gregory of Nyssa, in P.G., XLVI, 627-52) and a shorter, the latter an abridgment of the former and as yet unpublished. In tenth-, eleventh-, and twelfth-century MSS. of the former, to “Hesychius Presbyter of Jerusalem” is added the further title “the theologian”. The works of Hesychius of Jerusalem so far published are to be found in P.G., XCIII, 787-1560 (see also loc. cit., 781-88 for the older literary and historical notices), Faulhaber, “Hesychii Hierosolymitani interpretatio Isaiae prophetae nunc primum in lucem edita” (Freiburg, 1900), and Jagic, “Ein unedierter griechischer Psalmenkommentar (Vienna, 1906), also Mercati, “Studi e Testi”.


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!